A/N: So it's been like a year... or more. And what I have to show for it isn't very impressive, but at least there's something? Anyway, thanks to rosebudmelissa whose very thoughtful review convinced me to take another crack at this series and see if I could get the momentum rolling again.
Chapter VIII: On Gifts and Revolution
"So, Master Zabuza," Haku began. "Just hypothetically... what would you say if I told you that the young, questionably sane, and highly impulsive host of the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox is in the Land of Waves?"
Zabuza gave him a look.
"... and also you just tried to murder his sensei," Haku added.
The silence stretched on.
"You're just looking for an excuse to leave the country, aren't you?" Zabuza grumbled after a moment. "I bloody well knew it. Kid, just because your client is a bit of an ass, it doesn't mean you can just skip out whenever you want."
"No!" Haku protested. "Well, maybe. But I don't think Mr. Gato is a very nice man."
"Of course he's not. He's a crime lord."
"With very poor manners," the boy commented primly. "And frankly very little courtesy for his employees. I don't think he even remembers my name."
"As long as the money's good," Zabuza said with a shrug.
"That crime lord back in Rice Country was much nicer," Haku sighed. "Couldn't we go back there?"
"That was the same person who had you torture and disembowel his niece for plotting to overthrow him."
"But he remembered my birthday. I even got a little card saying 'Thanks for all your hard work'. And a smiley face. A smiley, Master Zabuza. " Haku shrugged helplessly. "You can't say no to that, even if it does come from a corrupt, vindictive, paranoid old tyrant."
"Do you even know your birthday?" The rogue Mist ninja looked at him skeptically. "Weren't you orphaned as basically an infant?"
"I was four," Haku admitted. "But no, I don't actually know. Neither did he, of course. I think he was really just starting to get a bit delusional towards the end. Still, it was a very sweet gesture."
Zabuza stared at the boy for a very long time, then pinched the bridge of his nose as though to stave off a headache. "So you want to ditch the best-paying job we've had in months because the local crime lord getting rich off the misery of the common man is, big surprise, kind of an asshole."
"And I, um, may have made friends with one of the genin we're trying to kill?"
Haku didn't say anything.
Zabuza looked him up and down. "You're joking, you have to be. You did not just take advantage of my prolonged coma to go frolic with the Leaf genin and make friends. How do you even do that?"
"We bonded over stories of people trying to kill us," Haku said sheepishly. "Also he invited me to lunch."
"You—" Zabuza massaged his temple. "No. The pet rabbit was one thing- at least it was practical. But this is just too much. No lunch dates with enemy genin. Ever."
The boy pouted. "Yes, Master Zabuza."
A moment passed.
"I wasn't lying about the jinchuriki part, though," Haku said after a moment. "He told me himself- he's the host of the Nine-Tailed Fox. He's the right age, an Uzumaki—it's got to be true."
Zabuza eyed him. "You're serious."
"And you made friends with it."
"Oh, god dammit," Zabuza grunted. "All right, you win. We're leaving."
Haku smiled happily.
The samurai looked Haku up and down. "You're leaving."
"You're so very perceptive," Haku agreed solemnly. "Master Zabuza and I are, in fact, leaving. While our tenure as coworkers was brief, I will always carry memories of your incompetence and ineptitude as I journey on. Best of luck with your employer."
"You have a contract," the mercenary repeated uneasily. "I can't let you... leave..."
"Sorry, what was that?"
"I, um. Gato won't let you just leave," he repeated, without much conviction. His hand hovered over the hilt of his sword, but he didn't seem too eager to draw it. "I mean. You signed up for a job, and..."
Haku smiled and inspected his reflection in a very sharp blade. "And?"
The mercenary gulped. "...and I'm sure Mr. Gato will understand."
"That would be exceedingly considerate of him," Haku said sweetly. "Actually, I'd like to give him my regards before I go."
"It's been such a wonderful experience, you see," he explained. "I'd like to give Mr. Gato a little something to remember me by."
Paling, the mercenary took an uncertain step back. "I should—"
"You should go for a lunch break," Haku suggested amiably.
"It's barely morning," the guard said nervously.
"A brunch break, then. Trust me, now would be an excellent time for brunch." Haku patted the man on the shoulder; the guard shuddered. "Go for a walk and get some fresh air. No need to hurry back, either—I'm sure Mr. Gato won't be in urgent need of your assistance for a very long time."
"You're going to—"
"Say a poignant goodbye to Mr. Gato, yes," the boy agreed. "Times change, people come and go. I feel it's my time to move on." He paused. "You might want to consider finding an alternate mode of employment as well, actually. I have a strong feeling that GatoCorp's holdings in Wave aren't as secure as they once were."
The mercenary glanced around, wide-eyed.
"Go on, now," Haku prompted.
Without a look back, the man turned and fled from Gato's hideout. If he had anything in the way of sense, he'd take the warning seriously and be on the first pirated rowboat off the island before word got around about the changes Haku intended to enact.
Revolution was never very tidy.
Haku knocked on the door to Gato's office, pulling a handful of needles out of his sleeves. "Excuse me, Mr. Gato, sir? Could I have a word?"
There was an irate growl from within, and a snarled "Get rid of him."
That, presumably, was directed at the gentleman who had formerly been guarding the door. Haku tsked. There really was no hope of propriety from Gato—no sophistication or sense of honor. Only childish greed and petulance. No one would mourn his death. The occasion might even warrant a round of applause.
"I'll just let myself in, shall I?" Haku offered after a generous pause. "I promise this won't take very long at all."
Haku was as good as his word.
It didn't take at all long.
When he emerged from Gato's office, carrying a cloth-wrapped bundle under his arm and closing the door neatly behind him, he smiled in satisfaction. Really, the businessman had redeemed himself in the end. After Gato's being so rude to Master Zabuza and trying to kill Haku's new Leaf ninja jinchuriki friend, the glee of finally being done with him was worth at least two birthday cards. Maybe even three.
Haku hummed a cheerful song as he left.
In a forest to the northwest of that same island, two genin were rudely awakened by the sound of their third teammate crashing through the bushes and into their makeshift camp with his habitual lack of grace.
"Naruto, I have a kunai in my hand that will shortly be lodged in your eye socket if you don't learn to be quiet in the morning," growled Sasuke. "If I have to get up, you will regret it."
Nearby, Sakura groaned and tried to cover her ears.
"Jeez, you really aren't much for mornings, are you?" Naruto tossed his backpack under the tree. "But listen- you'll never guess what happened!"
Sakura blinked groggily at him. "What? Did you get to the top of the tree or something?"
"Oh. Um, no, not quite."
"Did you find Gato lying dead of a heart attack?" Sasuke asked, rather more crossly. "Or did you suddenly acquire a fashion sense and realize that you need a new jacket? Or maybe you discovered Zabuza's henchman collecting herbs in the woods?"
"No, no," said Naruto, waving a dismissive hand. "I invited a pretty transvestite over for lunch!"
For a moment they regarded him blankly.
Sakura shrugged and rolled over. "So long as it's your lunch and not mine."
"Don't be so uncharitable," her blond teammate chided. "He's a really nice guy. I mean, I think he's probably got a pressing need for therapy given some of the things we talked about, but then again so do most of my friends, so it's really a moot point."
"Great. Wonderful. New friends," Sasuke said sourly. "Now be quiet or so help me I'll find a way to strangle you both without getting up."
Naruto pouted and subsided.
The point was, however, moot: just a few minutes later there was the sound of chakra release, a puff of smoke that set everyone to coughing and sneezing with gusto, and a swirl of leaves and dust that made Sakura yelp to cover her already much –abused hair. The appearance of Kakashi alongside all these inconveniences was pretty unsurprising.
"Sensei," she growled, as the dust cleared. "Good morning to you, too."
"Hello," said Kakashi, ignoring her glower. "Hope you slept well."
Sakura pulled a leaf out of her hair. "Just peachy, thanks."
"Why the hell," Sasuke demanded raspily, once he and Naruto had caught their breath from coughing, "does a goddamn shunshin always have to be accompanied with smoke? What is the benefit?"
"Hm." Kakashi rubbed his chin. "Well, in battle it's always good to disguise your escape, so the enemy can't tell which way you headed. It gives you the tactical advantage."
"So where's the tactical advantage in smoke-bombing your allies?"
"It teaches the importance of vigilance," the jonin said piously. "Shame on you for being caught off guard. What if I had been Zabuza or one of Gato's mercenaries?"
"Well, if it was Zabuza we'd be dead already," Sakura said reasonably. "As for his other two-bit mercenaries, I'm pretty sure even Naruto could take them down. Maybe they can intimidate the villagers around here, but in a fight between a ninja and a random thug there's really no contest, is there?"
"That was my next question," Sasuke noted. "Wasn't the point that you have chakra exhaustion, and you had to recover before Zabuza did? Why are you using shunshin anyway? You were on crutches a few days ago."
"Gold star for you," Kakashi said approvingly. "Well, as it happens, Gato's dead."
Sasuke blinked. "Damn."
"Sure he's not faking?" Naruto grumbled suspiciously. "That happens an awful lot around here."
"Well, he's been decapitated and his head is stuck on a pike in front of the city pier," Kakashi said, shrugging absently. "I've yet to see someone survive that."
"You survived decapitation on the way here," Sakura pointed out. "Twice."
"That's true," their teacher admitted modestly. "But I've had rather more practice than Gato has, and when seagulls are pecking out the eyes from your decapitated head, I think it safe to say you're dead in all the ways that matter."
"I suppose that's fair," she conceded.
"More to the point, how'd he get there?" Sasuke asked. "I thought we were the only anti-Gato trained fighters on the island. Unless Tazuna was lying about that, too—which honestly we probably should consider as a serious possibility, given his track record."
"Ah!" Kakashi raised his finger and rummaged in his pocket. "There was a note."
He produced a bloodstained piece of paper, and, smoothing it open, offered it to Naruto with a nod. The boy took it with a perplexed frown.
"Why are you giving this to me?" he asked dubiously. "Also, is that brain fluid?"
"I think it might be pus," Kakashi confessed. "But I'm not altogether sure. Anyway, I'm giving it to you because, apparently, you're the intended recipient. Read it."
Naruto, holding the scrap of paper at arms length, squinted at the neat cursive writing.
"Dear Naruto and Friends," he began, reading aloud. "I feel we got off on the wrong foot earlier this week. I apologize for trying to kill you and also for lying—though of course you understand I was only trying to protect Master Zabuza. However, since Master Zabuza has decided to break our ties with Gato, we are no longer obligated to be at odds. In the interest of supporting our new friendship, I thought I'd help you with your mission. (See attached head.) Unfortunately, we will have to flee the country now, and I won't be able to join you for that lunch date. Perhaps we can reschedule for another time? Yours, with affection, Haku(ko)."
The genin exchanged glances.
"What the hell," Sasuke said succinctly.
"Naruto," Sakura said evenly. "Did you befriend Zabuza's minion in the last few days and forget to mention it to us?"
"No," Sasuke corrected. "I think he befriended Zabuza's minion without realizing it. And I'm not entirely sure which is more unforgivably stupid."
"Oh." Naruto said, biting his lip. "Well. I might've, yes."
"Right." said Sakura with a tranquil smile. "Perfectly understandable, of course."
"Happens to the best of us," Kakashi intoned.
Wincing, Naruto glanced to Sasuke for support.
"If I ever go insane and abandon the village to become a terrorist revolutionary, I hope you know that it will be entirely your fault," the Uchiha informed him. "I'm also pretty sure you're the reason Kakashi has gray hair."
"My hair is hereditary," the jonin objected, wounded. "Also it's white. Or maybe silver."
"When you abandon the village, can I come too?" Sakura asked, sounding at least half-genuine. "It would be a relaxing change of pace from being a genin, going by our track record so far."
"There's room for all," Sasuke promised her. "As long as you don't mind taking a few detours to hunt down my psychotic traitorous older brother."
"Sounds like fun," she assured him.
"Oooh, can I come?" Naruto asked eagerly. "Because, I mean, road trip."
"Putting aside hypothetical revenge-driven terrorist road trips," Kakashi said, changing the topic with his usual grace and subtlety. "We have a bit of a dilemma, now that Gato's dead."
"What dilemma?" Sakura wanted to know. "I mean, we're here to protect Tazuna from Gato. Gato's dead, courtesy of Naruto's befriending Zabuza's apparently-also-a-transvestite-minion, evidenced by the fairly convincing display on the docks. We can pack up and head home within half an hour, no sweat."
"No ramen like home," Naruto agreed dreamily.
"Well, it is slightly disappointing that we came all this way and never got to fight anyone," Sasuke noted. "But on the other hand, we could always get another mission and try our luck again."
"Well, yes," Kakashi hummed. "Or you could stay here and keep climbing trees until the bridge is finished."
His students gave him simultaneous looks.
"It's a possibility, is all I'm saying," he defended. "We could hang around. Maybe Naruto could befriend Tazuna's grandkid, and the villagers will name the bridge after us in gratitude for our services in helping protect them."
Sakura threw her kunai at his face.
Team Seven spent the rest of the morning dealing with the scattered remnants of Zabuza's mercenaries, most of whom they tied up and handed over to the villagers of Wave to deal with in a fitting manner. Afterwards, they packed up and bid a cheerful farewell to the bewildered bridge-builder and his equally bemused daughter.
Inari, scowling, informed them all that they were useless idiots, and he was glad they were leaving.
Naruto stuck out his tongue at Inari.
Inari shoved Naruto.
Naruto stepped on Inari's foot.
At last, Sakura and Sasuke together dragged their teammate away from the client's grandson, before the two of them could devolve further into a shouting match of "You're the stupidest!" and "You're the stupider times infinity!"
Inari kicked Naruto in the shin and shouted, "Never come back, you jerk!"
"What did you say to the kid?" Sakura demanded in exasperation. "I mean, I know he wasn't happy to see us, but why does he suddenly hate you in particular so much?"
"No, no," Naruto corrected. "We're friends now."
Sasuke glanced back at Inari—who was now leaning out of his window making an obscene gesture at the team as they departed—and gave Naruto a doubtful look. "You're... friends."
"Yeah," the blond said, evidently unbothered. "Well, we were a little rushed so there wasn't time to do a proper epic battle accompanied by a heroic monologue, but Inari seemed disappointed so I told him a regular small fight would probably do the trick."
"Just drop it," Sakura advised the perplexed Uchiha. "If you try to follow his logic, you'll get all twisted around."
"Every time, I think he can't get any stranger," Sasuke admitted. "But he somehow manages."
"It's a gift," Naruto said modestly.
"Come, children," Kakashi beckoned. "Let's pick up the pace. There might be time for more tree climbing when you get back to the Hidden Leaf."
Nine days after Team Seven departed the Land of Waves, Tazuna and his crew of workers finally completed the bridge to the mainland. In the midst of the celebration, a name was chosen for the bridge—one that would mark the day they were liberated from their misfortune, the day that what was good and just triumphed over what was cruel and tyrannical. It was a name that came to symbolize righteousness and harmony in the islands for many years to come.
The name of the mysterious hero who had saved them all, and asked for nothing in return:
The Great Hakuko Bridge.
A/N: So it's not much but hopefully better than continued accumulation of nothing? To answer an FAQ: Despite all evidence to the contrary, I'm not actually high while writing this fic. It's an understandable conclusion of course, but I find success largely by exploiting my ADHD to it's optimal potential. #writing advice
Also: a hundred reviews for this nonsense! You guys are pretty damn awesome.